Homework Can Be a Meaningful Learning Experience

Some claim that long hours spent on homework plagues today's students. Even if this is a myth, we can each surely recall a time when we struggled for too long on a particular assignment. Bad homework nights happen; if they seem to be the norm for a student, however, then the parents should act on their concerns. Homework can be valuable in learning, but for it to be effective, the homework must be both meaningful and accessible to students.

Most schools agree with studies that indicate a child's homework time should be extended by 10 minutes per grade level. For example, a second-grade student may spend 20 minutes completing homework, and a third-grader, 30 minutes. Some kindergarten students do engage in assignments completed after school hours, but often it is more of a time for a child to bond with a caregiver in the form of reading together or working together on an experiment in the kitchen. Research indicates that students in early elementary grades benefit little academically from completing homework assignments. The purpose of homework in these grades centers on building and maintaining positive study habits and school relationships with the family.

As children enter middle school, the rigor of their courses increases. Students come to realize that others may not care to spend quality time on homework, if any time at all. As they progress into high school, few barriers keep the ambitious from signing up for multiple advanced courses. In these circumstances, the students (and even their parents) recognize that the amount of homework may exceed what has been recommended by education experts. By this time, homework begins to work as an indicator for achievement in future educational endeavors.

Teachers understand some students may require more time for their homework because of learning disabilities or other circumstances. Still, other factors may be at play, which could be causing a child to spend too much time on the work assigned. At what point should a student or parent raise concerns to a teacher?

Level of difficulty is often cited by students and parents as being the primary reason for an assignment taking an extraordinary amount of time. Students who frequently become discouraged when confronted with difficult assignments can quickly develop negative attitudes about school. Cathy Vatterott, professor of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and former teacher and principal, urges parents to discuss homework difficulties with their child. Vatterott says parents are to "talk with him or her to determine if the assignment is too hard, if the directions are unclear, or if he or she didn't understand the information or skill when it was taught in class." Parents can help their children complete work, but that should not become routine. It is important for parents to let the child become independent when working on homework. "To reinforce that [the homework is] your child's job, not yours, allow your child some control over how, where, and when he or she will do homework." Many parents assume that the kitchen table is the best place in the house for homework; however, this location is too easy for parents to monitor a child's progression through the assignments. Hovering parents distract the child's attention. If a conclusion is made stating the homework is too difficult, the teacher should be notified. Perhaps a realization will be made about unclear instructions or a missing element. Sometimes an underlying health reason may present itself when these homework conversations are initiated.

Teachers, especially those new to the field, may not have a clear idea of how to gauge the length of certain assignments. Providing teachers with feedback is an important step in creating effective communication that could bring enormous benefits to children. Likewise, contacting the teacher provides opportunities to find solutions together. One would think that all parents would be taking such steps to benefit their children; however, studies may indicate that a parent's own lack of skill in a subject may create tension with the child or an unpleasant attitude towards school. A study conducted in 2012 found that "fights and conflicts over homework were 200% more likely in families where parents did not have at least a college degree." Teachers can provide parents with tools for encouraging good study habits early on in the year to help avoid such conflicts.

Principals, parents, and students must find ways to work together to alleviate the homework burden and transform it into welcomed learning experiences. Research shows that there are benefits to homework when educators consider "grade-specific and developmental factors." Policies can be made and reinforced to ascertain teachers are doing what is best for kids when it comes to homework. In 2007, Educational Leadership published a list of research-based homework guidelines. First and foremost, research suggests that homework must be meaningful for it to positively impact students. Homework can be used to introduce new material or to practice a new skill independently. Teachers may ask students to elaborate upon class material while doing homework. Students also appreciate homework activities that allow them to incorporate their interests and talents outside of the subject matter.

Another factor teachers should consider when developing a homework lesson is its likelihood of being completed. The homework should be crafted so that kids will complete it. It should not be too difficult; however, it should not be so easy so that it fails to mentally stimulate a learner. No value is given to homework assignments perceived by students as "busy work" or work that will only eat up their time because it is too easy.

Designing assignments that include caregivers as references and experts is one way that teachers can reach out to their class's families. Modeling how to monitor homework and suggesting tips for ways to improve homework habits are other great ways a teacher can encourage a family to become more vested in their child's education. For homework to make the desired impact, the teacher needs to monitor assignments for age appropriateness and adequate duration.

Homework success can become a reality for many who are currently struggling. It is up to school principals and parents alike to keep an eye out for unhealthy homework assignments. The problem may go undetected if the observations of students engaged in homework are not made.